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Quietly protecting our lands

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald file photo

The Conservation Lands Foundation protects 28 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land that has scenic, historical or cultural value, including Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Here, a hiker leaves the trailhead at Sand Canyon in Canyons of the Ancients west of Cortez.

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

The Conservation Lands Foundation is the neighbor who goes about business so unobtrusively that it requires a special introduction to make its presence known outside a tight circle of acquaintances.

Headquartered in Durango since its founding in 2007, the foundation has branches in Phoenix; San Francisco; Reno, Nev.; Bozeman, Mont.; and Washington, D.C., no less. Ten of 17 staff members work and travel out of Durango.

“We haven’t done a lot of publicity,” Executive Director Brian O’Donnell said in an interview Wednesday. “We just do our work.”

Its work is to protect, restore and expand Bureau of Land Management holdings that have scenic, cultural, historical and wilderness attributes. So far, 28 million acres of the 200 million-plus acres managed by the BLM fall into the National Conservation Lands program established in 2000 by then Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt.

Less than a handful of the conservation lands – in Florida and Alaska – are outside the western U.S. Residents of the Four Corners will find familiar names such as Canyons of the Ancients, Gunnison Gorge, Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument and Vermilion Cliffs.

Congress can set aside special conservation lands or the president can do the same through the Antiquities Act, O’Donnell said. President Bill Clinton created Canyons of the Ancients.

Conservation is a new approach to resource management for the BLM, which in early years focused on development, O’Donnell said.

“Our mission has changed,” he said. “Conservation is taking a bigger role.”

The Conservation Lands Foundation receives no money from the BLM, which itself is a stepchild in the federal funding hierarchy, receiving $2.40 an acre for management, compared with $30.56 an acre spent on national parks.

Foundation funding comes from grants, donations and partnerships, O’Donnell said. The foundation has built about 50 “friends” groups since 2007 among which it has distributed $3 million for projects, he said.

In 2012 alone, the groups put in more than 112,000 volunteer hours, O’Donnell said.

“The most iconic places in the country are managed by the BLM,” he said. “But they’re vulnerable to looting, vandalism, off-road vehicles, so they need to be unspoiled for future generations.”

daler@durangoherald.com

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